By Bryan Zarpentine
American soccer writer Bryan Zarpentine argues the US National team world begins literally and metaphorically with Ghana at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Americans’ opening match of the World Cup will come against Ghana, the team that has knocked them out of the last two World Cups, and if they hope to get out of the dreaded Group of Death and advance to the knockout stage, they have to get a positive result against Ghana.
That doesn’t make it a must-win game, because a tie could be fine, but a loss would put their World Cup hopes in immediate peril.
The first match of a World Cup is always important, but this match is critical for the U.S. because unlike the last World Cup, they don’t have a weak opponent like Algeria waiting for them at the end of the group stage. Instead, they have European powerhouse Germany.
The U.S. could luck out if the Germans win their first two matches and have secured a spot in the knockout stage by the time they play the Americans in the third match of the group stage, as it would allow Germany to rest some of their starters and play without a lot of motivation, which would make it easier for the U.S. to get a positive result.
But that’s not a scenario that the U.S. should plan on happening. They also shouldn’t assume that they are going to be able to get any points out of its match with Germany.
The U.S. may need to find a way into the knockout stage without getting any points in their final match of the group stage, much like they did during the 2002 World Cup when they narrowly advanced despite a surprising loss to Poland in their final match of the first round. In order to do that, the U.S. must get a positive result in their opening match against Ghana; if they don’t, they will need to shock the Germans in their final match.
Despite knocking the U.S. out of the last two World Cups, the Black Stars don’t have the Americans number the way most people think they do. However, a loss to Ghana in the opening match could be an early knockout punch to the Americans’ hopes, essentially getting knocked out by the Black Stars for a third straight World Cup.
That is why the opening match is more important for the U.S. than it is for every other team in the World Cup; all of their hopes for the tournament hinge on a positive result against Ghana on June 16.